Oscar nomination further fuels debate over ‘Gasland’ natural gas indictment

An Oscar nomination this week is further galvanizing support for and criticism of a film that questions the safety of natural gas development.

“Gasland,” directed by Josh Fox, was nominated in the best documentary feature category. The film depicts concerns about alleged water contamination and other impacts from gas development in several states, including Colorado.

It has contributed to a growing national debate about whether hydraulic fracturing of gas wells harms domestic water supplies. The industry and some regulators, including in Colorado, have challenged its accuracy and say hydraulic fracturing is safe.

Lisa Bracken, who lives south of Silt and whose concerns are reported in the film, is pleased for Fox and surprised by the film’s nomination.

“What I’m really happy about is that it’s been recognized for Josh’s effort to bring the story to light,” Bracken said.

But Lee Fuller, executive director of the industry group Energy In Depth, said in a news release, “While it’s unfortunate there isn’t an Oscar category for propaganda, this nomination is fitting, as the Oscars are aimed at praising pure entertainment among Hollywood’s elite. Without doubt, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated ‘Gasland’ for its work in the field of art, not science.”

“Gasland” also won a special jury prize from last year’s Sundance Film Festival. But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued a document last fall pointing to what it said are errors in the film. It said gas shown being ignited at a kitchen faucet in Weld County came from shallow gas commonly encountered in area water wells, and not from gas development.

It also said a 2004 gas seep into West Divide Creek south of Silt was the result of a well cementing problem, not fracturing. And it said methane in the same creek on Bracken’s property came from biological fermentation, not deeper gas targeted by drilling.

Bracken says methane sources aren’t easy to distinguish from each other, and tests results are open to interpretation by experts. She notes the oil and gas commission is taking a further look at her concerns, and she said she appreciates that effort even though it’s belated.

Bracken thinks Fox’s film has served an important purpose in bringing to light similar problems in other states.

“Finally these disparities are showing up, and they’re going to have to be defended by the industry, but I think we’re slowly getting to the truth,” she said.



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